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Rare-earth magnets, swallowed by teen, send 14-year-old to emergency surgery

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Rare-earth magnets – made from alloys of rare metals and producing significantly stronger magnetic fields than other types of magnets – were carelessly swallowed by a 14-year-old seventh grader from Florida, sending her into emergency surgery, reports ABC News on Thursday.

Christin Rivas, a teen from Melbourne, Fla., received the pea-size magnets, often called "buckyballs," as a gift. To demonstrate just how powerful they are, Christin was able to pull a pen up a classroom wall by standing on the opposite side of the wall in another room.

Christin ingested the magnets while at school. She told the school nurse, who then called Christin’s mom. After determining the danger the magnets could cause, Christin was rushed into surgery before the magnets perforated any of her organs.

“I do feel it was one of those stupid kid moments,” said Christin. “I was going to the bathroom and I put them in my mouth because I didn't want to put them on the floor. I wasn't quite thinking. The kid on the other side said something that made me laugh and swallow them,” adding that she tried to make herself throw up because she realized the danger they could cause.

Christin’s mother Barbara Rivas, a 52-year-old mother of five, did some quick research and was shocked to find out how deadly a swallowed magnet could be. Even a single magnet, because of the way the metals erode in the stomach acid, can be extremely poisonous.

"I didn't like what I saw on Google," said Barbara. "They said you have to get them out before three hours or they get really dangerous."

Dr. Tejas Mehta, Christin's gastroenterologist, treated the teen.

"She came in overnight feeling fine, and in the morning when we repeated her X-ray we saw what looked like two round magnets and they had passed into the stomach. We thought we could do an upper endoscopy and be done with it," Dr. Mehta said.

Doctors were unable to flush out the magnets with laxatives however, and when the magnets passed into Christin’s small intestine, the situation became much more serious. Fortunately, surgeons at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando were able to retrieve the magnets by slicing into Christin’s small intestine. Today, she is recovered and back at school, although she may have permanent intestine damage.

Christin wishes that others will be spared surgery and possibly death, so it was her idea to call the Orlando Sentinel to tell her story, and her hope is that others will avoid any permanent damage.

"Don't even think about touching them or buying them," Christin said, referring to the magnets. "I messed up my intestines. I worry about that down the road."

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